Lebo See Promise From Newcomers

A report on Coach Jeff Lebo's Auburn basketball Tigers is featured.

Auburn, Ala.--As his team prepares for its Nov. 13th regular season opener vs. Niagara, Auburn men's coach Jeff Lebo says he is encouraged about what he is seeing from his Tigers.

"I really think this is probably the best group of freshmen and new guys that we have had since I have been at Auburn," he says.

Earnest Ross

Lebo has brought in four freshmen plus 6-8 sophomore forward Kenny Gabriel for the 2009-2010 season. The Tigers have a pair of 6-5 freshman guards in Andre Malone and Earnest Ross and the other freshmen are 6-9 Ty Armstrong and 6-10 Rob Chubb.

Andre Malone

Lebo says that Gabriel, who played last season at Paris, Tex., Junior College, has the potential to contribute early as both a rebounder and scorer. Gabriel is a good leaper with a nice touch on his three-point shot.

Commenting on Ross and Malone, Lebo says, "I think they are going to be able to shoot the ball and they are physically ready to bang in our league. Will they be able to get in the right spot and understand all of that kind of stuff early? They will struggle early, but as the season goes on they should get much better."

The Auburn coach says his new big men, Chubb and Armstrong, run the floor well and have done some good things in preseason drills. "We need one of the two big guys to play for us," he says. "I?have been impressed with Ty Armstrong's physical nature.

"We also have a transfer who is eligible this year, Tony Neysmith from Oklahoma who redshirted last year, and he can flat out defend," Lebo says. "He is not going to be a guy who scores a lot of points for us, but he is going to be a guy who defends a lot of positions."

Neysmith, a 6-5 sophomore, can play guard or forward and will try to fill the role handled by 2008-2009 senior Quantez Robertson. "We need to find somebody who can do all of the little things that help you win that don't show up on a stat sheet and Tez did that for us," Lebo says. "We think Tony can do the same things."

In addition to replacing Robertson, the Tigers lost two other seniors from last season's team--forward Korvotney Barber and guard Rasheem Barrett. The Tigers played their best basketball in February and March and just missed a bid to the NCAA Tournament. They won three games in the NIT before and just missed a trip to Madison Square Garden for the semi-finals.

One of the guys who wasn't available late in the season is Johnnie Lett, a 6-8 post player who suffered an ankle injury. "We are hoping to get some consistent play inside and stay healthy," Lebo says. "We need to get Johnnie Lett back to full speed. He is probably 75 percent now. He was probably our best post defensive guy last year."

Johnnie Lett

Lett, a senior this season, will be counted on to rebound along with 6-10 senior Brendon Knox, Chubb, Armstrong and versatile 6-6 senior Lucas Hargrove.

Lebo's teams have been undersized in recent years, but this season there are five players at 6-8 or taller on the roster and he has three six-foot-five guards.

"I hope we can play the height together," he says. "Everybody puts so much emphasis on height, but in my opinion the game is going the other way. It is going smaller.

"We do have some bigger guys and some strength. That should help us rebounding and defensively, but it may hurt us offensively because we can't do some of the things we are used to doing offensively when we play big like spreading the floor.

The Tigers, who finished 24-12 last season, play an exhibition game on Nov. 6th vs. Miles College.

""I have been really pleased with the physical nature of our practices this year," Lebo says. "We are just trying to get ready to play as far as putting our basic offenses in and man-to-man defenses in. We have been working on our under the basket and sideline out of bounds plays as well. We have been cleaning up execution every day and getting better and better with the execution.

"The guys' energy is great and they have probably been one of the best groups that we have had as far as coming and competing every single day," says the coach who adds, "We have great competitive practices because of that depth, and we have some guys who are pretty good who can play."

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